How to Manage the Online Marketing of Your Seasonal Business

Whether your business is only open during specific seasons and closed to the public the rest of the year or if you operate year-round, but experience peak and slow seasons, you will need to manage your business’ online marketing uniquely. In this post we’ll take a look at how to market your seasonal business all year.

Plan Ahead

Planning for a seasonal business doesn’t mean all of your efforts should be spent in your peak season. Being prepared in the slow times or off-season is prudent and will keep your head above water when your busiest sales season arrives. Take tax season, for example. This may not be the joyful event that everyone gladly marks on their calendars, but it is necessary.

Tax season is usually from January through April, making this a peak time for those offering financial services and tax preparation. So when should planning occur? It would be best to begin planning ahead in the summer and early fall. Marketing to new customers and establishing a relationship well before tax season will pay off greatly when the peak season rolls around by exposing your business to these customers and creating brand awareness for when they need your products or services.

Promote in the Off-Season

How can you promote your brand in the off-season to attract early buyers? Consider offering early discounts and promotions that incentivize shoppers to buy early. Let’s use the tax preparation company we were discussing as an example again. During slow periods you may offer customers free consultations or discounted rates for those who are looking to get a head start at putting their taxes in order. Email and social media marketing can be a great avenue for these promotions as they can reach a large portion of your buyers / fans and can be targeted to a specific audience.

Get in front of your established and potential customers all year, especially during off-seasons, to keep your brand and services offered top-of-mind. Offering personal deals in real-time will keep your business top-of-mind during the slow times when your customers aren’t necessarily thinking about your product or service. And remember, the internet connects your business with people worldwide, so what might be the off-season for you may, in fact, be the peak season for customers in other parts of the world.

Use Social Media to Keep Your Brand Top-of-Mind

Social media isn’t seasonal and using it as a part of your marketing strategy shouldn’t be either. Daily posts and updates will keep fans and followers connected and engaged with your brand. Using social media in the off-season can also be used to drive traffic to your site, which means you need to keep your content fresh and relevant!

Use Testimonials and Positive Reviews Year-Round

61% of shoppers read product reviews before making a purchase. This means you have to be ready to put your best virtual foot forward all year! Showcase positive reviews and testimonials you’ve received from pleased customers and display them on your website, landing pages, and social channels.

Develop a Seasonal Keyword Strategy

SEO matters all year for your business. In order to rank higher in search results, it’s important for you to focus on keywords that will increase traffic to your website during different times of the year. Choosing the right words to attract the right audience will ensure your brand is seen by as many people as possible.

Keyword research tools can help you decide which words are the most relevant for each season. Successful seasonal SEO will require you to research specific keywords, create campaigns, optimize ads for those keywords, and monitor your campaign’s performance. Keep up on current trends and remember that maintaining a year-round keyword strategy will require year-round work on your part.

Develop Content Year-Round

In line with your keyword strategy is the importance of developing content throughout the year. When your potential customers aren’t ready to buy they’re combing the internet looking for information that answers their questions. Your content needs to be updated, relevant, and offer valuable information to those shoppers. For a seasonal business, this means creating content throughout the year so things don’t seem stale. Think about a shopper visiting your blog and seeing that you haven’t posted anything in months. This is most certainly a turnoff for buyers and a great reason for you to maintain a content calendar.

A content calendar allows you to actively plan and consistently schedule content throughout the year. It also gives you a top-down look at your efforts to better optimize them with the seasons, holidays, and special events in mind. Think about the commonly asked questions or industry trends and utilize those to create information that your consumers will find value in.

Pay Attention to Your Competition

Do you know what your competition is up to? Are they creating excellent content and engaging their audience on social media throughout the year? Keep your eyes on the market and on your competition. Doing so allows you to stay abreast on industry trends and will give you inspiration and ideas regarding how to — or how not to — market your business during these slow times.

Target the Right Audience Using Segmentation

Segmentation targets subsets of your audience that are most likely to convert. These can be based on demographics, geographic location, lifestyle, and behavior. With a seasonal business, it’s vital that you understand who your target audience is so during peak and slow times you always have their attention.

Understanding your audience and segmenting your message correctly also requires you to understand where certain consumers are in their buyer’s journey. Some may simply be looking for more information where others have a lot of the information they need and are closer to making to decision and/or speaking to someone at your business. The goal is to be present at all times, and delivering relevant messages to your segmented audiences will help to increase the effectiveness of your marketing and ROI because these groups are already more qualified to respond to your advertising.

Digital marketing for seasonal businesses requires work! Business may slow down or come to a complete halt in the off-season, but your work isn’t done. Plan ahead of your peak and slow seasons, promote early, utilize the power of social media, develop a solid year-round keyword strategy, keep your eye on the competition, and know who your buyers are and when they buy. If you can work these tips into your seasonal marketing strategy you’ll be more better prepared to capture customers in Houston when things slow down.

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The Top 7 Mobile Marketing Must-Knows

Whether we like it or not, our mobile devices are becoming a bigger and bigger part of our everyday lives. Some studies have even predicted that by 2018 there will be about one billion people on the planet using smartphones.

Marketers should see this as a great opportunity to come up with unique, personalized, and real-time ways to connect and engage with customers.

But what exactly are the must know things about mobile marketing?

Here we’ll highlight some of the most important ones to keep in mind for 2016:

1. There’s More to Mobile Than Phones

Mobile marketing doesn’t just mean reaching people on their smartphones, it encompasses a myriad of different devices and technologies that you should

consider. You need to think about the size of the device, operating system and what kinds of activities people are actually doing on various phones or tablets. For example, according to a recent Forrester study, 66% of smartphone users utilize their devices while in a store, compared to only 9% of tablet users.

2. Basic Marketing Principles Still Apply

Regardless of whether you’re engaging in radio, print, or mobile advertising, the time-held truths of marketing still apply. In the end, it’s all about getting the right message to the right customer at the right time. Operate under the assumption that mobile is the first way that customers experience your brand, and use tools like Google Analytics to learn as much as possible about their location, device, and behavior.

3. Change Is Constant in Mobile Marketing

While it’s always great to have a plan, one of the must-knows of mobile marketing is that your marketing plan should reflect the rate of change in the industry. New devices, apps, and operating systems will come and go, all impacting your mobile marketing efforts in one way or another. Building periodic reviews into your mobile marketing plan will help you assess what changes are taking place and make the appropriate adjustments.

4. Focus on Responsive Design

Having a responsive website means that your web content is always optimized for viewing on a multitude of devices. Aside from ensuring a positive user experience regardless of the device visitors are using, responsive design is important because Google’s latest algorithm change ranks pages by their mobile-friendliness. Those who haven’t made the effort to optimize will be penalized with a lower search ranking.

5. Don’t Rush Into App Development

Developing your own app is often time-consuming and costly, and might not even be necessary depending upon your business. If you can achieve the functionality you’re looking for with your website, why spend the time and effort of app development? The key to this working is to understand what your visitors most need from your business (hours, location, phone number, promotions, etc.) and deliver that to them on your recently optimized, responsive website.

6. Video Is Trending

Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have seamlessly integrated easy to watch video content into their mobile experience. Using video to advertise on mobile is still in it’s infancy, but it’s one of the fastest growing areas. A recent Google study suggests that people who view videos on their phones are 1.4 times as likely to watch ads as those who view videos on desktop computers or televisions. Smartphone viewers are also 1.8 times more likely to share videos than those on personal computers.

7. Listen to Your Customers

While you may be eager to get the word out to your subscribers via mobile, keep in mind that mobile is a very personal form of communication. A “batch and blast” approach is likely to yield negative results, so it’s important to listen to your customers and read their “digital body language” in order to communicate the right message at the right time. A recent PWC survey found that most users indicate that they approve of a more conversational approach to mobile advertising, rather than one that is impersonal.

By keeping these must-know mobile marketing trends in mind when formulating your mobile strategy, you’ll be able to attract more customers and engage them long-term. Mobile marketing is constantly evolving, and by staying abreast of new techniques and technologies, you’ll be able to successfully leverage mobile as a key part of building your brand.

Can you think of any other mobile marketing must-knows? If so, feel free to share them below in the comments.

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Houston Small Business Marketing Tips and Tricks…from the Pros!

As a Houston small business owner, you’re always looking for ways to get the word out about your products or services. Marketing budgets are tighter than ever these days, and you need as much bang from your marketing buck as possible.

Odds are that you’re not alone. Many Houston small businesses are now striving to get an edge over the competition and adjust to the city’s growing population and changing demographics. The effectiveness of marketing and brand recognition can often make or break an entire business.

So what exactly can you do to stay ahead of the marketing curve? Here are six small business marketing tips from the pros that you can start using today to make a significant impact both now and into the future:

1. Use Automation & Technology

Automation is great because it takes a lot of the manual work out of your marketing efforts. Many platforms now allow you to create emails and marketing that are sent out once triggered by a specific action from a prospect. Also make sure to leverage analytic tools to monitor web visitors and social media automation services, like SocialSync, to autonomously post updates. In fact, many experts believe that the future of small business lies in automation, not just for marketing but HR, payroll, and inventory management. By having a solid technology strategy and automating as much as possible, you’ll be able to focus only on the most important aspects of your business.

2. Understand Your Audience

Marketing is a conversation, and before you start talking to someone you should know everything you can about them. As a business owner, do you know who exactly you’re targeting with your marketing? Have you done any market research or surveying to determine not just who your market is, but what their motivations are? You can leverage some of the following strategies to better understand and define your target audience: online analytic tools, database marketing, and product analysis.

3. Utilize Traditional Networking

There’s still nothing like face-to-face interaction when it comes to making a lasting impression. Networking with other Houston small businesses can pay dividends in the long run, as referrals and respect in the business community are great forms of marketing themselves. In addition, by networking with other business owners you’ll be able to learn from one another, swap ideas and figure out what’s working and what’s not as it relates to your marketing. Here are some astounding statistics that illustrate the power of face-to-face networking:

  • 84% of business people said they actually prefer face-to-face meetings
  • 74% said they were influenced by looks and a handshake
  • 77% said they prefer in-person conferences because they can read body language
  • 95% said face-to-face was essential for long-term relationships

4. Leverage Real-Time and Social Media

In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, new stories and topics are trending every day and can sometimes change dramatically by the hour or minute. If the topic makes sense as it relates to your business, go ahead and inject yourself into the conversation. You can build on this to use social media as a brand-building tool for your business. Answering questions, providing customer service, and engaging individual customers will make a huge difference in your social media marketing efforts. One caveat: be careful which topics or events you choose, as you don’t want to come across as insensitive. You’ll want to shelve any potentially risque humor, or anything that could be deemed offensive or inappropriate.

5. Target Your Marketing

As a small business owner, not targeting your marketing is something that you can’t afford. By understanding your audience and specifically targeting different segments, your marketing efforts will deliver a much higher ROI. You’ll also be targeting individuals that will be much more responsive to what you have to say, and therefore receive better feedback. If you’re unclear about your target market, you can start by identifying and analyzing your existing customer base. First, start with general traits such as gender and age, then drill down to find more specific commonalities and motivations.

6. Optimize Your Website for Mobile Users

Not just some, but all business need to be thinking about the mobile user. Google’s latest algorithm update now penalizes websites that are not optimized for mobile use, making it something you literally can’t afford not to do. In case you don’t believe us, check out these statistics from Smart Insights:

  • More than 20% of Google searches are performed on a mobile device.
  • In the United States, 25% of internet users only access the internet on a mobile device.
  • 61% of people have a better opinion of brands when they offer a positive mobile experience.
  • 25.85% of all emails are opened on mobile phones, and 10.16% are opened on tablets.

If you feel like your marketing efforts are stuck in the stone age, use a few of these small business marketing tips from the pros. Small businesses are constantly evolving and by putting some of these tools and tips into action you’ll be able to realize both short and long term results.

Do you have any marketing tips to share that might help other Houston small businesses? Make sure to let everyone know in the comments!

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How to Attract New Customers When Marketing in Houston

Are you wondering how to attract new customers to your business in Houston? Maybe there’s a secret that other businesses know about that you don’t?

Don’t worry, marketing to Houstonians isn’t necessarily rocket science. All it takes is the ability to assess what you’re doing now, and make the changes that are necessary.

When you’re done reading this blog, you’ll have some ideas for how to attract new customers to your business in a few easy steps. Let’s get started:

1. Start by Understanding Your Targets

Developing accurate personas of your target audience will give you a good start as to who you should be marketing to. This should go hand-in-hand with specific big-picture, strategic goals for attracting new customers. Some good examples of goals are: increasing membership signups, raising overall revenue, or developing a greater presence on social media. Your goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based (SMART).

2. Understand Your Customer’s Journey

Determine the steps your consumers requires that you take time to find the answers to their questions, and make that fit seamlessly with how you market to them. Ask yourself – at which stages different aspects of your marketing plan will ultimately reach them?

A visual map can be very helpful in this process, allowing you to see what different avenues customers often take towards making a purchase. The benefit is that you’ll be able to determine which pathways are potentially most profitable, and fill in any gaps you might have along various legs of the journey.

3. Hire Experienced Staff Members

As a Houston business owner, the reality is that you just can’t handle everything yourself. You’ll need to hire experienced staff members and leverage the expertise of these trained professionals. Ideally you’ll want to identify them as early in the process as possible, even if they have to do more than one job to begin with. Here are some of the skills that you should probably consider must-haves if you want to attract a significant amount of new customers with your new team:

  • Strong written skills
  • Graphic design
  • A basic understand of web development
  • Lead generation
  • Social media management
  • Email marketing.
  • Digital marketing (Heads up – three of the hottest skills in demand for 2015 have been SEO, pay-per-click (PPC), and content management.)

4. Evaluate Your Web Presence

Do you exactly how well your website is performing?

Have you recently updated your site to something responsive or, at the very least, mobile-friendly?

How does your site appear to viewers?

Is it dated, unattractive, or hard to navigate?

Determine the functionality of your website. How easy is it for visitors to find the information they’re looking for?

Are you looking at page views to see which content is being looked at most? By doing this, you can position that information better on your site to serve the viewers needs. It’s also a good idea to take a look at your competitor’s websites for ideas and inspiration. Think about what they’re doing right, or better yet, what they’re doing wrong, and use this as a means of improvement.

5. Utilize Marketing Automation & Email Workflows

Today’s marketing automation and email tools enable you to create content that targets specific points in your customer’s path to purchase. This keeps customers engaged and allows marketers to personalize their messages, further strengthening the bond between customers.

More importantly, it allows you to scale your marketing efforts by reaching more people at once without your email blasts seeming like spam. Outline the different steps in the path of your buyer’s journey, and automate each step with the appropriate materials and responses.

6. Create Content for Your Audience

The goal here is to be useful and provide value to your target audience. Blogs, white papers and case studies tailored to their common needs can be very powerful in terms of connecting with potential customers.

Creating content with a strong keyword strategy also has the benefit of improving your ranking in search results. Identify some key areas of interest for your audience and develop different types of content that speaks to them and that they would find useful.

Remember, people like to get their information in a number of different ways. Utilize eBooks, case studies, video content, and infographics to serve your prospect’s needs. In fact only 30% of companies say they are effective at content marketing, so this would make a great way to get a leg up on the competition.

So –  you’ve learned some basics of how to attract new customers in Houston to your business. Sometimes success starts with small, basic steps. With a bit of persistence and ingenuity you’ll be attracting more customers than you can handle.

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How to Turn Your Houston Marketing Frown Upside Down!

Are the results of your marketing efforts getting you down? The world of marketing is always in flux, and in Houston it isn’t any different. In this post, we’ll give you four tips to get you to the top of your Houston marketing game in no time flat. Let’s begin!

Ensure Your Site Is Mobile-Friendly

When Mobilegeddon rolled out in April 2015, a lot of businesses weren’t ready for it, especially the small ones. However, it took some time for the effects to really be visible. After six months, there was some solid data to consider, and for the non-mobile-friendly, the numbers weren’t good.

On average, they fell five ranks on search engine results pages (SERPs), which would be painful enough for businesses already ranking well. For businesses that barely made the first page, it’s disastrous. In fact, 77% of mobile searches occur where desktops are likely available, such as home and work.

People prefer to use their mobile devices, and when nearly 70% of clicks go to the top three returns and more than 50% of searches are performed from a mobile device, you can’t afford to not be mobile-friendly. We mean that quite literally — you could be losing thousands of dollars monthly.

How to Do It:

The task of re-designing your site may seem daunting, but ultimately it’s worth your trouble. Google recognizes three different mobile formats: responsive, dynamic (sometimes called adaptive), and mobile-specific redirect sites (e.g., m.YourWebsite.com).

While a separate mobile site seems like the quick and easy path, it isn’t going to be a long term solution. Why? Because more and more devices are coming in a wide variety of sizes. A dynamic design will offer the same content on the same URL, but use different HTML sets based on what meta data it reads from the browser you’re using. It’s effective, but harder to index by Google-bots; it also requires you to spend more time and money individually designing an appropriate number of HTML options.

We strongly recommend the responsive design — it has the ability, within one set of HTML to adjust to any screen or browser size as it’s encountered (i.e., respond to device parameters). That makes it very easy to index, and much cheaper to pay for.

How do you know if you’re mobile-friendly? And if you’re not, how do you fix it? There’s a few aspects you should be looking at.

  • First, use Google’s Mobile Friendly Test and Mobile Usability Tool to see what changes Google says need to be made.
  • Next, check the options provided by your content managing system (e.g., WordPress, Joomla, SquareSpace); Google has tips about some of these as well.
  • Then make sure you don’t use Flash, mismatched fonts, or non-optimized images (i.e., extremely large file size).
  • If you already have a mobile site, ensure all of your redirects go to the proper URL’s or you could inadvertently downrank yourself.

However, in most cases, you’ll probably be coordinating with a web designer to redevelop your site or make any needed changes. However, if you are handling your own website, here’s a few tools to help you on your way:

Ensure Your Team Is Thinking Mobile First

Unfortunately, even when your site is mobile friendly, your marketing creative may not be. Whether you’re the one that handles marketing or if you have a team that develops it, you need to ensure that your marketing is designed with mobile in mind first and foremost. Here’s a few reasons why:

How to Do It:

Marketing that isn’t targeting mobile audiences first is missing out on a larger and larger chunk of your audience. So what does creative need to concern itself with?

First and foremost, how easy is the marketing to absorb on a mobile device? Marketing also needs to be designed to work within a responsive platform and adhere to some of the same guidelines (e.g., image file sizes) that your website does.

Secondly, you need to determine what kind of marketing is going to be most effective for reaching your audience. Banner ads must be effective and native advertising is not only on the rise, it’s successful.

Most importantly, you need to have your marketing in the right place at the right time.

Ensure You’re Effectively Targeting Your Audience

Unfortunately, this seems to remain a difficult thing for marketers. According to one study, more than half of the respondents found it difficult to determine proper target personas. You may think it’s unnecessary, considering Nielsen reports roughly 59% of ad impressions reach their audience.

There’s a key problem there though — it’s measuring ad impressions instead of what’s actually important: conversions. Personalizing calls-to-action will boost conversions by 42%, while personalizing the shopping experience across all marketing and media channels boosts conversions by 40%.

How to Do It:

Reevaluate your audience by examining what your products and services fulfill in terms of customer needs. Use this to focus your segmentation.

Really break down your data, all of your data across all channels, and filter that to determine which segments are reached most effectively, on what channels, for what budget.

Take full advantage of listening tools and targeting software, especially if you can make targeting in real time.

Lastly, you should always validate your targeting and retargeting. It ensures you really are hitting your targeted segment.

Ensure You’re A/B Testing for Effectiveness

The fact is, A/B testing can take time, but that time is offset by the advantages it offers you. This tool helps you sharpen the focus and personalization of your targeting. Why? Because you’re constantly testing variations for success. This will allow you to determine something as simple as whether or not one layout reaches one segment better than another, while it fails with a different segment entirely. Similarly, you can test channels, and how successful one choice is for reaching a targeted segment per channel. Marketing isn’t one size fits all, and there’s only one way to figure out what’s going to work for your needs.

How to Do It:

First, make sure you’re evaluating the right things the right way. Don’t stick to a format because it’s the way your company has always done it. It may be time to overhaul everything, whether it’s your website or your marketing.

If you’re working on your marketing, take advantage of the Google Website Optimizer. In fact, Google AdSense has a great method for A/B testing.

Furthermore, review the offerings from Optimizely and VWO. Be sure you select an A/B testing method that suits your business needs most effectively. Also, review case studies from businesses that are similar to yours, and from businesses that are just as successful.

Create a plan for A/B testing content and marketing, and apply it either immediately or on future projects. The results will help shape your efforts toward higher success.

If you put these four aspects into motion, you should see an uptick in the success of your marketing efforts. Of course, at Cox Media Group Houston, we’ve got the experts and tools you need to take your marketing to the next level. Whether you need a hand putting these steps into place or you’re looking for more advanced advice, we’re ready to help.

Responsive Website

 

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Houston Online Marketing Trends to Plan for in 2016

When it comes to digital marketing, it’s not enough to follow the herd. Amidst fierce competition, brands, now more than ever, must really stay on the cutting edge of marketing techniques in order to maintain relevance with their audiences. In this post we’ll take a look at some online marketing trends to plan for in 2016 to help your business’ marketing soar into the new year.

More and More Focus on Mobile!

Mobile devices have been an important target to marketers and that trend shows no sign of slowing down in 2016. At present, 64% of all adults in the US own a smartphone, and by 2016, worldwide smartphone ownership is expected to exceed two billion people. That’s over a quarter of everyone on earth! Can your marketing afford to lose such a massive audience?

In addition to smartphones continuing to dominate in 2016, expect to see increased ownership of other mobile devices. By the end of next year, 1 in 10 people in the US will be tablet owners, and wearable tech ownership — like smart watches — will have tripled. Brands that want to thrive would be well served to capitalize on the popularity of these devices by tailoring their marketing campaigns to accommodate a variety of mobile screens and platforms.

Focus on New and Niche Social Platforms

Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn may have the market cornered when it comes to social media, but as a marketer you ultimately need to be where your audience is. With these “old-guard” networking sites mostly saturated — over a quarter of teens have recently left Facebook, for example — 2016 is the time for brands to broaden their social horizons by reaching out to their audiences on sites like Instagram, Snapchat, and Periscope.

While Instagram is owned by Facebook, and Periscope by Twitter, these sites boast an entirely different experience than their parent sites. Fresh and fun, sites like Instagram and Periscope offer instant, real-time connections. And their emphasis on photos and videos makes them great for brands too! Just take a look at how users are engaging with brands through Snapchat’s new, innovative “Discover” section.

Predictive Analytics

Think of predictive analytics like market segmentation on steroids. Predictive analytics looks at the past behavior of consumers and analyzes it for patterns that can predict future actions. Not only can it let marketers nurture their audience with personalized messages, it can help to predict the outcomes of proposed marketing campaigns, letting brands minimize risks and maximize ROI.

Video Ads Will Dominate

Whether it’s pre-roll, post-roll, or native, advertising in digital video will continue to grow this year,  doubling in ad spends compared to three years ago ($2.8 billion in 2013 vs. $5 billion in 2016). While impressive, these numbers are hardly surprising, given how popular streaming video is for consumers and what a powerfully engaging medium it is for marketers.

App Indexing Will Lead to an Explosion of Apps

Recent moves by Google to enable better indexing of Android apps in its Play store is as important for businesses looking to get their apps noticed as SEO is for content marketers. Rather than apps being organized very generally (games, utilities, etc.) new indexing algorithms let users search for just the right app to suit their needs, in much the same way they would a website.

If your business has an app, or is considering releasing one, it’s easy to get it indexed, and doing so can provide a helpful push in getting your app noticed.

Digital Assistants Will Lead to a New Kind of Optimization

Digital assistants such as Apple’s Siri, or Microsoft’s Cortana have changed the way users interact with the web. Businesses need to optimize their web presence in order make their information easily accessible to digital assistants so that when a user says something like “Siri, show me hardware stores in Houston,” your store comes up.

When predicting trends, it’s hard not to feel like some of them are more science fiction than reality. But while things like wearable tech, and complex algorithms might seem “far-out” right now, it’s important to remember how far technology has advanced in the past decade. As tech advances, it’s important for digital marketers to keep up. In the vastness of the world wide web, failing to do so is the quickest route to obsolescence.

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4 Steps You Can Take to Start Driving More Traffic to Your Website

The internet is an ever-changing digital landscape of best practices, search engine algorithms, and keywords. It probably feels like determining how to drive more traffic to your website isn’t as easy as it used to be, if it was ever easy at all. Fortunately, we’ve got some simple ways to drive more traffic to your website while doing more than playing by the rules. You’ll be giving your site’s visitors better, more valuable reasons to come back, and you should see conversions because of it.

Be Mobile Friendly!

You’re probably familiar with the word “Mobilegeddon” by now, and you’re probably not impressed. To many, it seemed to roll out not with a bang, but with a deflated whimper that left some scratching their heads. Unfortunately, that’s because a lot of the people that would have been looked at for impact were in the process of becoming or were actually already “mobile friendly.” In search results, this is the key identifier of Google’s algorithm update earlier this year.

If you’re still wondering “why is responsive design important?” then you should take a look at a few statistics: as many as 20% of people will be using your website from a mobile device, and some 60% of searches are made from or start with a mobile device. Couple this with the fact that people use the search options on their smartphones like we used to use the nearly-defunct phone book. And – not to mention the fact that the number of users integrating smartphones into their shopping experience or even outright shopping from their phone is steadily increasing, and you begin to see why creating a responsive website isn’t just a good idea, it’s a vital one.

What this means is that if you want steadily growing traffic, you must be mobile friendly. You will need to focus more of your attention on aspects of your business that are affected by mobile traffic and optimize them. This isn’t just to make it easier for users to browse your site, or just to appease Google. This will also enhance user experience and make them more likely to visit your site again.

By the way – making the update should be easy. Depending on the platform hosting your site, there may already be tools in place to make the switch smoothly.

Stay on Top of the Shifting SEO Landscape

SEO best practices are not static. On one hand, this is because technology and the programming behind it are always being updated and improved upon. How people build websites and use search engines are changing as well. On the other hand, this is also a constantly developing precaution against companies that want to game the system.

Abusing protocol might get a site more traffic for a short while, but invariably, that traffic won’t stick around because the site isn’t actually what users are looking for. And then, of course, Google, Yahoo, or another search engine will adjust their algorithm to downrank the site for its misguided efforts.

Even if you’re using best practices from years ago, that doesn’t mean your SEO techniques will still be effective. That may sound obvious on the surface, of course, especially with the aforementioned emphasis on change. However, it cannot be stressed enough how quickly your SEO strategy may need to be adjusted in response to algorithm changes.

You need to not only make use of SEO best practices to the best of your ability, you need to keep track of its changing requirements as well. Your site may need an SEO facelift in order to actually see more traffic flowing into your site.

What might make your SEO strategy seem more complicated is also the increasing level of nuance in optimization. It isn’t merely about keywords or about having new posts being put up every day. SEO algorithms are beginning to take quality and value into account. That means taking a fresh look at your content, which we’ll discuss in a moment, as well as making judicious use of long-tail keywords.

Long-tail keywords use three or more words to make a phrase, and are intended to emulate the phrases people will actually use on search engines. This not only diminishes competition for keyword ranking, increasing the odds of your page being found, but it improves the quality and type of user that finds your site. They will be more likely to want what your website has to offer, and thus be more likely to come back.

Content Is a Priority

As we just noted, SEO is much more nuanced than it used to be. This is due, in part, to last year’s Pigeon algorithm update from Google, which largely had to do with affiliate sites and deceptive ads. It also represented a shift in how Google viewed content, specifically with regard to low-quality content (ie., little or no added value), especially when it’s stuffed with keywords. Ergo, your site should regularly produce quality content that adds value to your business. If that sounds obvious, it’s only because you were probably attempting to do so from the beginning.

What you might not know is how to produce quality content, or even what kinds of content you should be producing. Of course, this will be influenced by your industry, but there’s a few basics to stay on top of.

  • Your content should be multi-platform ready. This means that the content you produce increases your search visibility as well as your social media reach. Multi-platform content can be shared and re-shared easily across a spectrum of social media platforms, all while linking back to your site, providing a digital word of mouth.
  • Blogs in particular can help your SEO ranking, especially if posts utilize different but inherently related long-tail keywords. Presented correctly and updated in a timely manner, a blog and social media outlets will also increase the perception of your site as authoritative in your industry.
  • Guest bloggers can improve your ranking and perception as well. While commerce is an inherently competitive endeavor, there’s a point at which thriving on the internet requires a certain level of intra-industry cooperation. This isn’t to say that guest bloggers are an immediate necessity, or that they’re going to be right for your site in particular. Guest blogging should go both ways, so having credible guests lends you authority while you, guest writing for another site’s blog, increases the visibility of your own site and further supports your own credibility.

Social Media Engagement Connects Customers to Your Site

Social media is literally digital word of mouth, but making an impact on social media takes more than just shouting into the void. Turning that impact into site conversions is a step further than that. The key is engagement.

Now, engagement as a term can come off as jargon, but it’s quite literal. Just as sales are more effective inside a store by interacting with a customer, your social media outlets should be engaging, letting you interact with users that will, in turn, follow your social media content back to your site. This can sometimes be as basic as customer service, but it can also be used to draw customers in with contests, pictures, and updates about your industry. Keep in mind that being engaging will also have long term payoffs, bringing in conversions that you wouldn’t have reached without it.

Much more than that, social media analytics can give you clear feedback about what is or isn’t succeeding about your site and your business overall.

In the end, the best ways to drive more traffic to your website aren’t complicated or difficult, but they do require time, effort, and above all, quality. Take these steps and you’re sure to see your traffic swell.

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10 Scary Digital Marketing Mistakes You DON’T Want to Make

Halloween is right around the corner, but here in Houston, it’s not ghosts and ghouls were afraid of, it’s bad marketing. So bring your tablet around the campfire and check out these 10 very scary digital marketing mistakes you most definitely DON’T want to make.

1. Failing to Understand Your Audience

Come on now, it’s 2015. With all of the different ways there are to engage with, and learn about your audience there’s no excuse for not understanding them. And even if your target audience is zombies, if your base thinks you’re out of touch you can bet they won’t be paying you any attention.

2. Not Having Defined Goals

This is one of the scariest digital marketing mistakes you can make, because having ill defined marketing goals can throw a whole campaign out of whack. If you don’t know what you want to achieve with your marketing, you risk choosing a marketing technique that is ineffective for the situation, or else not tracking the proper metrics to allow you to accurately see whether the campaign was a success or a failure. You’ll be marketing-walking dead, wandering aimlessly, arms outstretched.

3. You’re Trying Too Much

No one expects you to become a marketing superhero overnight, especially if you’re just starting out. Think of yourself as more like a marketing Karate Kid instead. Start small, and see what works. Wax on. Wax off. Learn how to A/B test your campaigns, and you’ll be able to identify what works best for you in no time.

4. You Have Unrealistic Expectations

The internet is really a wonderful thing. While you’re reading this post you could, in mere seconds, order that gorilla costume you wanted for Halloween, and have it appear at your doorstep tomorrow morning. Instant gratification at it’s finest. But (unfortunately) digital marketing doesn’t work like ordering a gorilla costume online. It takes time.

Often times advertisers get frustrated with a digital campaign when it doesn’t immediately yield results. But let’s use this as an example, the average social media campaign takes six months before it shows results. That’s a lot of tweets, but patience pays off in the end.

5. Not Budgeting Properly

Creating a digital advertising budget can seem daunting to the uninitiated, but it’s really quite simple. So simple that even the slowest of digital marketing zombies could follow it.

6. Too Much Social Media

When it comes to social media, your business doesn’t need to be everywhere. As long as you’re engaging your audience where it counts. Pick one or two social media sites that are most appropriate for your strategy and stick with them! Professional businesses seem to do best on sites like Twitter and LinkedIn, while restaurants and retail stores, for example, might find a more welcoming audience on Facebook or Instagram.

Wherever you choose to get social, don’t post too much, lest you see your audience begin to tune you out, and your social pages turn into digital ghost towns.

7. You Don’t Understand the Importance of Content

Creating content and/or blogging not only helps you get found online but it helps educate your customers and position you as a leader in your industry. And even more, it works for driving conversions! In fact, inbound marketing drives 54% more leads into your marketing funnel than traditional methods.

8. You Don’t Understand Keywords

Keyword stuffing is a terrifying digital marketing mistake, and there is a lot to learn about how keywords work today. It’s more about the quality and placement of your keywords and not the quantity. Search engines algorithms have gotten smarter and are ranking your website based on how useful viewers find the content, not by how many times a keyword appears. Brush up on your SEO best practices and watch your site climb the ranks today!

9. You’re Not Thinking About Mobile

Mobilegeddon — Google’s latest algorithm update — was six months ago, and if you haven’t optimized your site for mobile yet, you are seriously harming your search engine rankings, and regardless of what updates are made to the search engines we know that mobile matters today more than any other time. With 60% of internet access mostly mobile, it might even matter more than any other format.

10. You’re Not Tracking Your Efforts

One of the biggest advantages that digital marketing has over other mediums is its enhanced ability to track the success (or failure) of your marketing efforts, so that you may improve future campaigns based on what did/didn’t work in the past. It’s what separates a banner ad from skywriting.

So there you have it. Can you identify if your business is making any of these fatal digital marketing mistakes? Heed these warnings, and begin to improve your overall digital strategy today. If you dare!

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Email Marketing Best Practices: It Starts with the Subject Line

Email marketing is one of the most effective, and economical ways to reach out to your business’ target audience. And, just as the headline plays an important role in content marketing, so does the subject line in email marketing. Keep reading for some email subject line best practices that are sure to call attention.

Your Subject Line: The Ultimate Call to Action

Email subject lines are your ultimate calls-to-action. A full 35% of email recipients will open an email, just on its subject line alone, so a strong subject line can be just the push you need to drive conversions.

Personalization Matters

“Names are the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Dale Carnegie’s influential words remain as relevant today as they did 100 years ago. They’re possibly even more important in the digital realm, which can seem cold and impersonal all too easily.

Whenever possible, personalize the subject line of your email. Not only does this simple practice increase open rates by 2.6%, is just might brighten someone’s day.

The Words You Include Matter

Some words are better than others, that’s no secret. But the words you use in your email subject line can affect everything from open and click rates, to how many people unsubscribe from your mailing list. So choose wisely. And be sure to check out this list from mailup.com of some common email subject line words, and how they perform in the wild.

Keep It Short

Subject lines with fewer than 10 characters have an open rate of 58%. Enough said.

Don’t Be Deceptive

It might seem like a good idea, but you know who adds tags like FWD and RE to email subjects when they don’t belong? Spammers. Not only are deceptive subject lines annoying, but they can hurt your entire campaign: once enough recipients mark your email as spam, emails from that address will begin to be filtered by the service provider’s spam filter. That’s definitely something you want to avoid.

Be Very Specific

Instead, opt to tell the reader exactly what the email is about. Your subject line is your email marketing call-to-action, remember. And just like any other CTA, specificity is key. For example, if you’re business is running a Fall sale, don’t simply put “Sale!” in the subject line, use something like “Jon, You Can Save Up To 50% at [your store] Now Through Oct 31.”

Don’t Recycle the Same Subject Lines

If you’re using the same subject line over and over again, people will begin to tune it out. Unlike other forms of marketing, repetition will do you no favors when it comes to email. Opening, reading, and acting/responding to an email is a much more active process than say, hearing an ad on the radio. And people are busy. So keep your content fresh.

Some More Things To Try

Using brackets or unicode to set off words or phrases may lend urgency or emphasis to your message. While one copywriter found that putting her company name in brackets [Like This] at the end of the subjects lines gained a boost in open rates, your mileage may vary. Likewise for unicode symbols.

Ultimately these are aesthetic choices, and whether you should use them or not depends on your message, and most importantly, the preferences of your target audience. If they might like it, give it a try.

Now that you’ve brushed up on your email marketing subject line skills, get out there and send some emails. Experiment with a few A/B tests, and find what works best for you.

The 5 Steps to Creating an Online Advertising Budget

Raise your hand if you’ve ever tried to figure out how to create an online advertising budget for your business, but had no idea where to start.

When you start the process of creating an online advertising budget, you’re hit with a ton of different options from Google ads to SEO services. Finding the right mix of products, services, and internal resources to allocate can quickly turn into a major headache.

Deciding to spend some of your business’s hard earned cash to increase your online footprint can be difficult – but there’s good news: Creating a budget for digital marketing doesn’t have to be intimidating. With the right research, planning and strategies you can easily create a powerful online advertising budget — all without much time or energy going to waste.

Below we’ll walk you through the five basic steps to creating an online advertising budget. When you’re done you’ll have a better idea on how much to budget, where to spend and how to plan for the future.

1. Determine a Percentage of Overall Revenue to Spend

Allocating a percentage of overall revenue is an important first step to creating an online advertising budget. This model creates a consistent and repeatable method for developing your digital marketing spend. According to Gartner, companies spent around 2.5% of their annual revenue for online marketing in 2014. This will only continue to increase significantly in upcoming years. Don’t be afraid to start small and increase the percentage as you become familiar with what works and what doesn’t. The main point is that you have a well-reasoned, predetermined amount to get your digital marketing efforts off the ground.

2. Use the Competition’s Budget as a Reference Point

Building greater brand recognition than the competition is one of the primary objectives of advertising online. By using competitors’ budgets as a benchmark, you know about how much you need to spend in order to match their level of brand awareness in the marketplace. Surprisingly, there are a variety of tools and applications available online that can provide insight into your competitors’ budgets. For example, iSpionage allows you to enter a competitor’s website address and subsequently generate a report detailing how much they spend on both organic and paid search. Use this data as a guidepost, and cross-reference it with your figure from the previous step to get an even more accurate figure of what you should probably spend.

3. Determine What Your Strategic Goals Are

Deciding how to create an online advertising budget depends heavily on the overall strategic business goals of your company. This can vary depending on each situation, and include things like generating brand awareness, capturing inbound leads or increasing sales conversions. Implementing a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Based) goal-planning methodology for your overall business is a great first step. Once you’ve identified the key, big-picture success metrics — revenue targets, increase in client base — you can then determine how online marketing will help you achieve those goals and how much you’ll need to spend in order to get there.

4. Use Historical Data and Analysis

In today’s landscape, having a data-driven approach pays huge dividends by way of making accurate, well-informed business decisions. In terms of creating an online advertising budget, there are quite a few research databases that provide historical online marketing data. These can be broken down by time period, industry, company size and other variables. Tools such as SimilarWeb provide historical benchmarks for statistics like web visitors and mobile app usage. A comparison of the relevant historical data with your current statistics and marketing objectives will then lead you to make more informed decisions in the next step, which is choosing the appropriate online advertising tools and platforms.

5. Select the Online Advertising Channels That Are Right for You

Finally, and perhaps the most important of the five steps to creating an online advertising budget, is deciding the online platforms and channels that best suit your business. These can include, but are not limited to, Google ads, Social Media, Video Content, and Retargeting ads. Each comes with its own set of strengths, weaknesses and associated cost structure. You may want to start by gauging the status of your current basic online marketing efforts, which typically include website performance, SEO and company blog — if you don’t have one now, you probably should. Based on the previous four steps you can then assess your potential online marketing mix, how much each one will cost and what they will likely contribute to your long-term business goals.

Complete these five steps to creating your advertising budget and you’ll be well on the way to digital marketing success. And do you know what the best part is? Creating your online advertising budget for the next year won’t feel nearly as daunting.